the night of the first day of school, our dinner table hopped with lively sharing of stories and adventures. one of my favorite blips that happened that day took place at the very start of bella's latin class. after the bell rang and the sixth graders settled down and looked front at a man they didn't know leaning on the edge of the desk. he said ...
this class is going to be hard. it is going to be a challenge for every one of you in this room. if you don't want to be in a hard class that is challenging, please come to the front of the room right now and get a transfer slip which you can take to the office and pick another class.
with this he turned and picked up a stack of papers from his desk and eyed the room, slips in hand. after a few moments of still and silence, the man returned the slips to his desk, turned back to the room, clapped his hands together and enthusiastically said, "welcome to latin! let's get started."
in my unqualified opinion, we could do with a
little lot more of this in our expectations of our young.
in my partially qualified professional opinion, we could do with a lot more of this in our own work. in the work i do and the class i teach, this initial introduction to something, be it a class, an idea, a product, a story, to anything is phenomenally important, more so than most folks realize. fortunately there is now science backing the import of the first sixty seconds of an experience.
back when i had just recently learned about the importance of such matters, i found myself at lunch with a recent phD graduate who just landed a job teaching at a university. over lunch he expressed concerns and fears about the classroom. i inquired on this asking if he had problems with his teaching thus far. he told me he had never taught. to my shocked question of how that could be he said he had a special scholarship that excluded him from classroom duties, therefore, he had never been at the head of a classroom. oh. well. then.
he asked if i had any tips. i told him that in my experience the opening was crucial. how your students perceive you in the first few moments of class is paramount, particularly if you have no reputation to lean upon. i explained what the studies, and my personal experiences, had done to demonstrate this. he listened. he nodded. then the conversation faded and turned elsewhere. my full expectation was that he politely shouldered my excited outpouring but that my words were running off a steep cliff in his mind reserved for information he didn't trust or deem interesting.
three months later i received an email from him. he said his first class was a large auditorium of students taking a required statistics class that they all hated. on day one he walked in, put down his bag, introduced himself, and said that today he was going to teach them how to scientifically rate the most attractive politician. at the conclusion of that sentence, a whole auditorium of previously numb students visibly straightened in their chairs. and just like that, a man won a room of attentive minds.